The European Parliament approved on 25 February a resolution on “Combating violence against women”. One out of three European women has been victim of physical or sexual violence, and this affects hugely European societies. In fact, according to rapporteur Parvanova, violence against women is both a violation of human rights as well as of social and economic rights.

Dr. Antonyia Parvanova is a Bulgarian paediatrician, member of the European Parliament since 2009. Expert in the field of healthcare management, she is an ALDE coordinator for the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. Parvanova has been rapporteur and shadow rapporteur for several reports regarding public health and human rights: the last one is a report – with recommendations to the Commission – on combating violence against women, which has been voted at the end of February during the plenary session of the Parliament in Strasbourg.

In Strasbourg’s plenary, Dr. Parvanova started her speech with a powerful sentence:

“Violence against women is a severe violation of human rights in the form of gender-based discrimination. It is the root cause of gender inequality and it is an obstacle to women’s full participation in economic, social, political and cultural life”.

In medias res, directly to the point. Because this is the point, violence against women is both a violation of human rights as well as of social and economic rights.

The Parvanova Report, “Combating violence against women”, has been adopted by the European Parliament on 25 February. It requests the Commission to submit, by the end of 2014, “a proposal for an act establishing measures to promote and support the action of Member States in the field of prevention of violence against women and girls”. The legal basis of this Report is Article 84 TFEU, which establish that the European Parliament and the Council may take measures to promote and support the action of Member States in the field of crime prevention.

The Parvanova Report requests also the Commission to present an EU-wide Strategy and an Action Plan, as foreseen by the Stockholm programme, referring to a tangible protection of women’s integrity, equality (Article 2 TEU), and well-being (Article 3(1) TEU).

Violence against women: a pandemic violation of human rights 

On 5 March, the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published a report about violence against women in Europe. According to this research, 33% of women over 15 years resident in the EU (62 million people) have been victims of physical or sexual violence, 18% of women have been victims of stalking and 20% of young women (18-29 years) have been victims of cyberbullying.

Morten Kjaerum (FRA’s Director) underlined also that 5% of European women over 15 in the EU have been raped. That means that 9 million women – more than the Austrian population – have been raped during their life.

This data show that violence against women is a “pandemic which is affecting mankind”, as actress Thandie Newton said in an interview to promote Eve Ensler’s “One billion rising” campaign.

This year’s celebration of International Women Day at the European Parliament took place during the FEMM Committee (Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality) of 5 March. The Committee’s theme was “Preventing violence against women, a challenge for all”.

Mikael Gustafsson, chair of the FEMM Committee, opened the debate saying that preventing violence against women is a priority issue for his committee and recalling that during last Strasbourg Plenary, the Parliament asked to the Commission – which has the right of legislative initiative – to put forward a comprehensive law to fight violence against women (through the Parvanova Report). The comprehensive strategy required by the Parliament includes all type of violence against women (sexual harassment, female genital mutilation…). Dr. Parvanova said: “we hope we will be able to push the European Commission […] but also the Council and National Member States to commit towards this issue”.

During the committee, several representatives of civil society, as well as MEPs spoke about violence against women. Daniela Bankier, Head of Unit for equality between women and men in the European Commission’s DG for Justice, said she considered this kind of violence to be a result of historically unequal power relations between women and men.

Joanna Goodey, Head of the Freedoms and Justice Department of FRA, reminded that often violence is committed by an acquaintance, partner of family member, and that it is pervasive in the workplace.

She also mentioned the importance of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention. This agreement signed by 32 countries considers violence against women as a form of gender-based violence, committed against women because they are women. But, at present, it has been ratified only by 8 countries.

But violence against women harms also social and economic rights for women.

In November, when the legislative initiative report « Combating violence against women » was presented to FEMM Committee, it was accompanied by an assessment of the European Added Value Unite (EAVU) at the European Parliament, which estimates that the economic annual cost of violence against women for 2013 amounted to 228 billion euros, or 1.8% of EU GDP. This impressive figure has to be explained not only in terms of medical costs to public and state services, but also in terms of lost economic output, and in terms of psychological effects of pain and suffering for the victims.

For the European Women Lobby, violence against women creates a “considerable financial burden”, which affects EU Member States’ economies.

(Elena Brolis) 

To learn more:

–      Debate in Strasbourg Plenary, Parvanova’s presentation : (EN)

–       Parvanova Report: (EN)

–       FEMM Committee, 5 March 2014: (EN)

–       Launching video of the FRA Report: (EN)

–       About Istanbul Convention: (EN)

–       Thandie Newton about One billion rising campaign: (EN)

–       EWL’s position paper. “Towards a Europe Free from All Forms of Male Violence against Women”(December 2010):  (EN)